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Disenfranchisement of EU citizens resident in other parts of the EU

The right to vote in elections is a fundamental right common to the constitutional traditions of the Member States, and recognised in the EU Treaties as intrinsically related to the right of political participation which, for its part, provides democratic legitimacy to those exercising public power. This right is not absolute though and is subject to restrictions.

The decision of who is conferred the right to vote in national and also in European elections lies with states. Six EU Member States deprive their nationals, under varying conditions, of the right to vote in national parliamentary elections due to residence abroad, both in other Member States and in third countries. These same six Member States also disenfranchise their nationals in European elections, if they live permanently in a third country, and two of them even do so in respect of nationals resident within the EU. ‘Disenfranchisement’ due to residence abroad can be a result of minimum residence requirements in the country in which elections take place as well as of losing electoral rights due to time spent abroad.

The lack of facilities to vote from abroad, while rendering the exercise of voting rights difficult, does not amount to their loss as such. Disenfranchisement is based on the assumption that expatriates are not affected by the political decisions taken in their country of nationality and that they are not able to cast a meaningful vote due to lack of knowledge of the political reality there. Globalisation and improved communication means have however induced a tendency towards enfranchising expatriates.

Citizens deprived of their right to vote in national elections in their country of nationality often face exclusion from political life at national level in both their state of residence and their state of origin since EU Member States (and more so third countries) do not generally provide any right to vote in national elections to non- nationals. Whilst the European Court of Human Rights saw no infringement of Convention rights from disenfranchisement rules, the loss of electoral rights for citizens who move to another EU Member State could be seen as an infringement upon the freedom of movement under EU law, since it could potentially stop EU citizens from exercising their free movement rights.

Different solutions have been discussed. Actions at EU level include a possible infringement procedure against those Member States who disenfranchise their nationals resident elsewhere in the EU, as well as a Treaty change to include a voting right for EU citizens in their host Member State or the right to choose to vote in national elections either in their Member State of nationality or in the host Member State.

Another proposal, which is more realistic in the short term, is to convince Member States to enfranchise nationals living in another EU Member State or at least to enhance the conditions for them to preserve their right to vote.

The European Parliament’s think tank have produced an in-depth study of the issue, this can be found at

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